Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in the second reading debate on private member's Bill C-226, introduced by the hon. member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis. I believe that all parties in the House support efforts to reduce the devastating harm that is so often caused by impaired drivers, while at the same time respecting the charter rights of all Canadians.
As members are undoubtedly aware, on average, nearly four Canadians lose their lives every day as a result of choices people make to drink and drive. Countless thousands more are injured and impacted by this terrible crime. Accordingly, I believe Bill C-226 should be given second reading and referred to committee for study and possible amendments to improve it. The bill proposes a fundamental reform of the impaired driving provisions, and other transportation provisions of the Criminal Code. The government accepts in principle the proposal in Bill C-266 to enact a new part that is written in simple language to make the law easier to understand and to enforce.
The existing Criminal Code provisions dealing with transportation offences, particularly those addressing impaired driving, are complex and often difficult to apply. In part, this is a result of successive piecemeal reforms that have taken place over many years. They have also been considerably interpreted by our courts, making it difficult to understand how they operate simply by reading the provisions. This has in turn impacted the effectiveness and the efficiency of our investigations, prosecutions, and sentencing in these important cases. The provisions can benefit from the reforms proposed in Bill C-226.
Today, I will limit my remarks to some of the key elements of the bill. First, the bill proposes to have uniform, higher maximum penalties for all transportation offences upon summary conviction and indictment. In particular, the proposal to have a 10-year maximum penalty on indictment for simpliciter offences, rather than the current five years, would make it possible for the crown to make an application to have a repeat drunk driver declared a dangerous or long-term offender. The code currently provides that a person must be convicted of an offence having a maximum penalty of 10 years or more before such an application can be made. At present, a person cannot be declared a dangerous or long-term offender even if they have committed multiple impaired driving offences.
The government therefore supports the maximum penalty proposed of 10 years for simpliciter offences, 14 years for bodily harm offences, and life for all offences causing a death.
The bill proposes to hybridize the transportation offences involving bodily harm. This would provide the crown with discretion to proceed by summary conviction in cases of minor bodily harm or by indictment in cases of significant bodily harm. Currently, the crown can only proceed by indictment. Therefore, the government supports this change.
Bill C-226 proposes many new and higher mandatory minimum penalties. We believe that higher mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment are inadvisable. I wish to advise the House that the Minister of Justice will be undertaking a review of sentencing that includes all mandatory minimum penalties. Importantly, the bill's proposed five-year mandatory minimum penalty for causing a death and the provision requiring consecutive sentences for each person killed raise significant charter issues. I therefore encourage members of the committee receiving the bill to strike from the bill all of the new mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment.
The government is, however, prepared to support the higher mandatory minimum fines for first offenders found with a high blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, or who refuse to provide a breath sample. We know that the higher the BAC, the more likely the driver is to cause a crash. The increase in fines from $1,000 to a minimum of $1,500 for a person with a BAC of 120 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood, and doubling the fine to $2,000 for a person with a blood alcohol concentration of 160 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood reflects this greater danger.
To ensure that an offender who refuses to provide a breath sample does not gain any advantage over those who comply with the demand, the $2,000 fine would also apply to refusal offences. I note that a blood alcohol concentration of 120 would be an aggravating factor should the person be convicted of a subsequent impaired driving offence.
The bill proposes mandatory alcohol screening, otherwise known as random breath testing or RBT. It must be borne in mind that driving is a privilege and that it is subject to many conditions. Most importantly, police already have the authority to stop any driver at random to ensure that he or she has a valid licence and that the vehicle is registered and insured.
Indeed, the courts have upheld the authority of the police to make random stops to check whether the driver is sober. During these stops, the police currently try to determine the sobriety by smelling the air for an odour of alcohol, by asking drivers if they have been drinking, to looking to see whether their eyes are red or bloodshot, asking them to produce various documents, and to observe their co-ordination.
Research has also shown, unfortunately, that drivers who are over the limit often, far too often, manage to get through a police stop without being detected.
Mandatory alcohol screening of drivers who have been stopped, whether as part of a random check stop for sobriety or because there is something in their driving which has led the police to make the stop, will identify far more of the drivers who choose to drink and drive while impaired. It is a quick, scientifically valid way of determining whether the driver has consumed alcohol and appears to be over the limit.
The realization that they cannot avoid giving a breath sample at roadside will have a very significant deterrent effect on people who may choose to drink and drive. I would like to advise the House that this deterrent effect has been demonstrated countless times in many other countries.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in its 2009 report pointed out that random breath testing reduced the number of people killed on Irish roads by 23%. In New South Wales, Australia, it resulted in a decrease of 36% in the number of fatally injured drivers with a blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit.
The Department of Justice issued a discussion paper in 2010 that pointed out that:
RBT has had such remarkable results that in 2004 the European Union recommended that it be a part of every EU nation’s traffic safety measures. According to the European Transport Safety Council, RBT is now in use in 22 European states.
The fact that random breath testing has been implemented in other countries, where it has saved thousands of lives and prevented countless injuries, is powerful evidence in its favour.
The government therefore supports the bill's recommendation for mandatory alcohol screening and random breath testing.
The bill also proposes to facilitate the way in which blood alcohol concentration is proven in court. It would provide that blood alcohol concentration at the time of testing would be conclusively proven if there were two breath tests on an approved instrument taken 15 minutes apart, preceded in each case by an air blank test and a calibration check, which produce results that are within 20 milligrams of one another.
Currently, the law provides that blood alcohol concentration at time of testing is deemed to be the BAC at the time of driving if the test is taken within two hours. Where the test is conducted after the two hours, a toxicologist must be called to provide evidence of what the person's BAC would have been at the time of driving if his or her evidence of consumption is accepted.
Bill C-226 proposes a legislative formula for calculating the blood alcohol concentration beyond two hours, which would significantly simplify trials in these cases. The bill also proposes to eliminate the bolus drinking defence and limit the intervening drink defence by making it an offence to have a blood alcohol concentration of 80 within two hours of driving, subject to a limited defence for innocent post-driving drinking.
The bolus drink defence arises when the driver claims to have consumed a large amount of alcohol just before driving so that, although their blood alcohol concentration was over 80 at the time of testing, the alcohol was still being absorbed at the time of driving. This defence rewards those who consume a significant amount of alcohol immediately before driving, which I am sure we can all agree is behaviour that should be discouraged.
Bill C-226 proposes two additional significant changes to the law relating to evidence in the area of drug recognition and evaluation, DRE. First, the law would be clarified to ensure that the evidence of an evaluating officer conducting the DRE is admissible without a hearing to qualify the evaluating officer as an expert. This would respond to several lower court decisions, which have refused to hear expert opinion evidence from the DRE officer with respect to drug impairment.
The government supports these enhancements to the drug recognition and evaluation program. As well, the government will be seeking to have some technical amendments presented at committee. As I stated at the beginning, I am sure we can all agree that the goal of the bill, to make our roads and highways safer for everyone, for all Canadians, is one we can and must support.
Therefore, I would urge all members to vote for the bill so we can get this important bill to committee where it can be studied in detail.